Winter 2010

Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation Provides ‘Jumpstart’ for Innovation

By Jade Griffin

UC San Diego’s young scientists have a world of promise ahead of them. Yet, funding for new biologists to pursue their innovative research can be difficult to secure. Federal agencies like the National Institutes of Health grant funding to scientists with a substantial body of data to support their research. Yet finding the resources to build the data can be challenging. Private support is essential during the early stages of scientists’ careers, helping them establish their labs, purchase research equipment and more.

Ray EdwardsEnter the Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation. Ray Edwards built a successful insurance business in Calexico before selling the business while still in his 50’s. He then moved to La Jolla with wife, Pauline, where he became an active member in the community. Impressed with the science and research discoveries that gave rise to San Diego’s thriving biotech industry, Edwards decided he wanted to help advance scientific discoveries at UCSD and other leading research institutes in the local region.

Edwards passed away in 1997 at the age of 94, but his legacy lives on. With his generous charitable bequest, the Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation was established with the mission of providing financial support for basic research in the biomedical sciences.

“Ray believed that innovation in the biomedical sciences served the public good,” said Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation chair, Donald Yeckel. “There is a critical need to support the highest quality young scientists. They will make the discoveries of the future.”

With this enduring philosophy, the foundation supports a range of programs designed to train and support bioscientists and San Diego’s future science leaders. The foundation is deeply committed to providing much-needed funding for young biologists and other scientists who have received their doctoral degrees within the last several years and are embarking on their academic careers.

Leading the foundation, Yeckel is joined by his two sons, who serve as co-trustees. Both are UC San Diego alums. Andrew Yeckel,’84, Ph.D. ‘89, is a senior research associate in the Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science at the University of Minnesota. Mark Yeckel, ’85, Ph.D., serves as an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology at Yale University

“We provide seed money for research, so that promising scientists can build data which will in turn allow them to secure federal funding,” said Yeckel. “Our goal is to give them a jumpstart.”

Jill LeutgebAssistant professor of neurobiology at UC San Diego, Jill Leutgeb, Ph.D., is one young scientist who has received funding from the Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation Career Development Award in Biomedical Sciences. She was selected for the $150,000 grant, paid over three years, which helped her establish the lab where she studies the neural basis of memory formation and retrieval. Leutgeb believes her findings could help scientists better understand and treat Alzheimer’s disease, epilepsy and depression.

“The award from the Ray Thomas Edwards Foundation has been instrumental in helping me establish my laboratory and initiate new experiments,” said Leutgeb. “Private gifts are essential to allow young scientists to focus on science and pursue their ideas, a process that facilitates the generation of new data that is required to obtain additional funding.”

The Edwards Foundation has also generously funded a Eureka! scholarship for Biology undergraduates to conduct research in the lab, graduate student fellowships and travel awards allowing students to travel to scientific conferences.

“We are entrusted with continuing Mr. Edwards’ legacy and we take that very seriously,” said Donald Yeckel. “It is exciting to support research today that will benefit countless people tomorrow.”